Creating an enduring and welcoming community among students is a challenge every boarding school faces. At Oak Hill Academy, our advisory program is one of the most important tools we have to help us in this effort.
Advisory group meetings
The advisory program centers around small group meetings. These are regularly scheduled advisory sessions with a cohort of students and a staff or faculty advisor. During these discussions, which usually focus on a different theme each time, the students on our campus share thoughts, ideas, and feelings and nurture their social and emotional growth.
Choosing a theme
While advisory meetings occur during school hours, they are not academic in nature. Rather, our staff and student leaders decide together in the spring what our main idea, or “theme,” for the following year will be. Every adult on campus is asked for ideas and input in this process, and in recent years we’ve had themes such as “empathy,” “opportunity,” and “wellness.”
We chose “connect” for this year’s theme. This was a timely choice, as it is widely accepted that the COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on the social, emotional, and academic learning of our children. Beyond the recent burden of social isolation, our research and years of experience working with adolescents shows us that connecting with one another and belonging to a community positively impacts student health and academic and emotional outcomes.
Building the program
Once we identify a theme in spring, our counseling staff gets to work throughout the summer creating a thoughtful year-long advisory curriculum related to that theme. This is no small task, as typically there are dozens of advisory meetings each year. Each advisory lesson contains objectives, activities, and additional resources to reinforce the main lesson. And all of it is delivered in bite-sized packets of age-appropriate learning.
When school starts in the fall, every teacher is assigned an advisory group based primarily on grade level. And that’s where the Oak Hill advisory curriculum shines as one of our most valuable differentiators and a powerful community-building tool.
Culture and connection
High-schoolers are pretty good at creating culture. Many make friends easily, build alliances quickly, and are fiercely loyal. One primary goal of our school advisory is to ensure that every student is known, heard, and cared for through intentional activities and interactions. Advisory provides students with a sense of belonging and safety.